Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
1 John 3:18
Television personality Art Linkletter once asked a little girl if she knew what true love was. She thought for a moment and then said, “Love is when your mommy reads you a bedtime story. True love is when she doesn’t skip any pages.”
The apostle John would have agreed. It’s easy to pledge love in the heat of passion or during the quiet intimacy of a Valentine’s Day dinner. But true love has to deal with short fuses, tired bodies, overextended commitments and inconvenient interruptions every day. And yet it keeps on giving.
The church at the end of the first century was wrestling with a philosophic aberration of Christian doctrine called Gnosticism. Gnosticism played up the spiritual nature of humanity and downplayed its physical nature. Some select people believed they had a spark of divinity trapped in their flesh. Only the religious elite had the secret information (gnosis means “knowledge”) that would help them transcend their evil flesh. To them, Jesus was a heavenly visitor who came to this world like a ghostly apparition; he never actually became flesh and blood, for all flesh is evil and a divine spirit would never become human. Salvation consisted of secret chants and rituals that prepared one for release into the transcendent world. Gnostics ignored the physical needs of others and disdained those who did not share their secret inspiration.
John wrote about the true Spirit of God, who helps us know that Jesus actually came in the flesh. The “true love” of God put Jesus into our world, not just to float around like a ghostly figure with meaningless chants and rituals, but to struggle with the world’s problems and difficulties as a person of flesh and blood. Such true love helped those who were cold and hungry and in need of shelter. True love dug in and got dirty.
So it is in marriage. One couple I used to know never figured that out. The wife was addicted to romantic novels and TV soap operas. For her a constant flow of romantically charged passion was the only sure sign of love. When her husband came home from a hard day at his job too tired to court her, or when hours of cleaning or cooking took the fairy-tale bliss out of her week, she couldn’t take it. Eventually she filed for divorce. She’s probably still looking for that make-believe kind of happiness.
The apostle John urged the church to believe in a God who physically came into our world to be with us in our struggles. Furthermore, he calls us to imitate God’s love by investing our energy in the day-to-day messiness of the real lives of others. We need to see others—especially our spouses—with our Father’s eyes, touch them with our Savior’s hands and be inspired by the Spirit’s passion as we act out true love.